Politicians and school administrators have made standardized test results their holy grail, but they’ve only made students view school as a painful and pointless chore. We shouldn’t be surprised that students lack passion for learning.
Every other aspect of a young person’s life is full of passion. Kids will tell you they love playing Halo, that football is what they live for, and that Lady Gaga is their hero. I’ve even heard students talk excitedly about a funny car insurance commercial. You’ll never hear them say they love biology class or that they can’t wait to find out what happens next in history class. These are things that should excite them. Our inability to get them excited about wisdom and learning is more our failure than it is theirs.
The answer is to infuse the lesson plans with emotions. Every subject can be taught with a sense of urgency, social justice, awe and wonder. We want them to look at history as the key to unlocking human progress, not just a collection of dates and battles. Help them open their eyes to see that science is the beauty of the natural world, rather than a list of Greek and Latin words to memorize.
Let’s start with history. Instead of just teaching kids dry facts about the Civil War, we should start with teaching them the evils of slavery and treason. Dwell on the injustice and brutality of slavery until you have every kid in the class is in tears, then they’ll not only hear the words of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, but feel them. If we teach them about the character of Lincoln, Grant and Sherman, they won’t just remember the details of the war, but they’ll cheer them on every day as if their own fathers were sent away to fight.
Science should be even easier, since teenagers are already fired up about questioning authority. Give them heroes with the same attitude. Focus on the character and personalities of scientists like Galileo, how their bravery to stand up against established beliefs helped transform the world. Scientists in Medieval Europe and the Soviet Union were especially courageous, since they faced death for questioning established belief systems. Erase the image of a boring nerd in a lab coat and replace it with a martyr for the truth and knowledge, then students will see themselves as great when they understand and wield the power of science.
Many people will fear this method of inspiring students to learn. Some will say, “You can’t just idolize Lincoln or demonize Robert E. Lee. There are different perspectives, what about Southern point of view?” No, there is only the immortal truth of history. Lincoln was a great leader worthy of our praise. Lee fought to enslave people and destroy the United States. We should never have to water down our American values of liberty and justice for all. Religious people will say, “Only the Bible can explain how the world works. I don’t want my kids believing that science has all the answers.” Fine, your kids don’t have to learn about science. Send them to a private religious school, but don’t deny the rest of America the chance to excel in biology and engineering.
By building on the passions of young people, we can improve our school system in a way that fires up their motivation to learn and gets better results than the standardized test method.